Travel log, part 4: Rome

Dates of travel: Saturday, 3/26 to Tuesday, 3/29

Ruins of Rome Scenes like this are just about everywhere you look


Rome, although not my favorite city, was by far the coolest. There was loads of history everywhere you look, and so many photogenic things to see and do. And despite the apparent lack of an accessible public transit system, Rome is easy to get around because the historical part of the city has places of interest located in close proximity to each other. There weren't as many cheap traveling hostels as in other cities, so the only hotel I found around was Hotel Acropolis for around 50 € a night, which was conveniently close to the train station which links to the airport. On that note, a warning people should keep in mind is that the last train to the airport leaves before midnight, with the next one leaving at 6 AM. If you have an early morning flight, you'll have to take a taxi.


Foro Romani

The ancient Roman forum Democracy!

This archaeological site is an absolute must-see. This was the birthplace of democracy, situated in the heart of ancient Rome. It fell into great disrepair after the collapse of the Roman Empire, but several buildings and statues have been restored. In particular, the older forum to the left of the site is in much better shape and is situated higher than the rest of the area, offering an amazing panorama. It also happens to be less busy because fewer people are willing to walk to it, despite being almost as large as the lower part of the forum. The forum and the Colosseum are included on the same ticket and positioned right next to each other, so dedicate a day to visiting the both of them. There is a museum across from the Forum called the Museo dei Fori Imperiali which is cheap to enter and provides extra background on the archaeological sites.

The Colosseum

Wall of the Colosseum Football stadiums aren't this cool

Now, you came this far to Rome, so you're obviously going to see the Colosseum whether you enter it or not. There isn't a whole lot to see: most of the awe factor comes from its size. Visitors can walk around the whole structure, the old and the reconstructed sections. Be warned that lines can be over an hour long; there is a limit to how many people can enter at once.

The Vatican

Holy altar in the middle of the basilica The view of the altar

This is a long walk from the center of the city, but obviously worth the visit. After passing through some security you have access to the entire courtyard and most of the ornately decorated cathedral. Access to certain sections might vary based on the liturgical season, but its impossible to miss the most impressive sight - the altar facade. I wasn't able to go into the Sistine Chapel due to renovations, but to get to it, you have to approach the Vatican from a different side.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi fountain at night, with pristine marble statues The most popular fountain in the world

One of the most beautiful and popular sights in Rome, Trevi Fountain is an incredible sight, chock full of people waving selfie sticks around and eating gelato from one of the many shops around the fountain. Kept in pristine shape since it was finished in 1762, the fountain looks flawless in the present day. It is supposedly good luck to throw a coin over the shoulder into the fountain, but this luck doesn't seem to be particularly effective. Regardless, you can take incredible shots of the fountain if you shove your way into the middle on the steps, and it is well lit at night.

The Pantheon

a ballroom in the palace Each level you ascend, the view of the city gets better

Walking into the Pantheon is a surreal experience. The massive domed ceiling has a cutout in the middle where the sun and rain stream through and get drained off the floor or illuminate the building like sun breaking through the clouds. Although this temple was originally dedicated to the ancient Roman gods, the Catholic Church swept through and replaced the deities with biblical lore depictions long ago. It's free and easy to get in as well as central to a lot of places, so I would recommend taking the time to see it.

Other things

You can find interesting architecture and fantastic ancient buildings around every corner in Rome. Another cool destination is the Piazza Navona which is pretty close to the Vatican. Also worth mentioning is that the city is crammed full of cool old churches (far too many to make a list here), most of which are open to visitors. However, the best way to discover Rome is simply to wander around as much as you can and experience as much as you can cram in to your stay. All the popular parts of the city are extremely safe thanks to heavy police presence and general busyness of the area.

A white plaza in the sunset with statues out front


Travel log, part 3: Paris

Dates of travel: Friday, 4/1 to Monday, 4/4

night cityscape of Paris Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower


My last destination in my spring break travel itinerary, Paris was a great place to visit, although it didn't entirely live up to my expectations. Regardless of that, I wouldn't take it off the bucket list yet.

When getting in from CDG, there is a cheap train ride into the city. As far as I know, there are several stops along the way which you can get off at, but I took the one that dropped me closest to the hostel I had found, Woodstock Hostel, which was probably the most unique place I have ever stayed at. It was hippie themed, with breakfast and wifi. I had the pleasure of rooming with an old Asian man, who traveled the world seeking spiritual guidance.

I had no idea how to navigate the public transit in the city, but my hostel was close enough to the action and the weather was temperate enough to allow me to walk everywhere. Either way, I didn't see much about public transit in the city, and Paris seems very navigable without it. The city itself is not the cleanest, nor does it feel the safest. Some street con artists similar to the ones I ran into in Rome will literally grab on to you and then try to start a fight when you push them away, and the old Asian man had his phone stolen over the course of my stay.


Arc de Triomphe

It seems like most roads in the city eventually lead to the Arc. This is probably because of the 8 roads that merge into the roundabout which encircles the Arc. One thing that needs clarification: there are ways to get to the Arc that do NOT involve crossing the 8 lane roundabout. A tunnel runs parallel to the road that looks like it would go underneath the arch. I would definitely recommend taking this route and not risking your life. Once you're safely there, there are tickets you can buy which let you walk up to the top of the arch and get a great view of the city.

the Arc de Triomphe

The Louvre

Easily the most memorable part of the trip, I could go on for days about the Louvre. It's an incredible collection, which one needs at least a week to fully take in. Getting tickets ahead of time online is a must to avoid the line, and the 3DS visual guide might as well be a requirement to visiting this place. It features endless interesting dialog about many art pieces, as well as visual features like a dynamic map, 3D reconstructions of the works, and slideshows about various artists and paintings. My suggestion for getting the most out of one day of visiting is to pick two colored sections of the map and go through all of them. Obviously if you're traveling to Paris, you're going to want to see the Mona Lisa, so make sure paintings is one of those sections. As there are lots of crowds around it, go at the end of the day so you actually have a chance of seeing it.

the Louvre courtyard with the glass pyramid in the middle One of the only places that art history majors can land a job

Eiffel Tower

Obviously you're going to see this as well. As long as the temperature isn't too hot, climbing up to the second deck is pretty fun, because you can take your time and there are informational posters on the staircase. Trust me, its not as bad as it seems! At the two lower levels there are shops, bars, and restaurants, and on the second level you can buy an elevator ticket which will take you up to the top observation deck. It gets quite cold at the top because of all the wind, but the views are worth it.

looking up at the Eiffel Tower Looking up at the Eiffel Tower

Cathedral de Notre Dame

Arguably less cool then the college, but hey, a Disney movie was set here. Honestly, it didn't blow me away, especially after seeing the Sacred Family in Barcelona. However, it is breathtakingly massive, especially the stained glass windows. There is also a love lock bridge nearby.

the old, classical style cathedral It's much bigger than it looks

Other things

It rained on my first day here, so I checked out the aquarium, which is very close to the Eiffel Tower. It's really nice and offers student discounts like a lot of other places I went to over the semester. A lot of places will believe that you are a student if you just provide proof of age, so for those without student IDs, it doesn't hurt to ask. There are plenty of amazing pastry places in Paris, but the most notable is Laduree [warning: autoplaying video], credited with inventing macaroons. It's very expensive, but at least afterwards you can take a sweet looking Instagram pic. Cheaper tourist destinations include the Opera House, situated close to the Louvre and the Tower, and the Petit Palais, another free art gallery.


Travel log, part 2: Barcelona

Dates of travel: Tuesday, 3/29 to Friday, 4/1

beach, ocean, and Barcelona The beautiful beach on the east side of the city


My first and last impressions of Barcelona were both of a very clean and safe city, in contrast to Naples. This was my middle destination (out of 3) on my spring break vacation. When flying in, it is easiest to reach the middle of the city by getting a weekend metro card for fairly cheap and traveling from the airport stop. Be warned, however, that the wifi at the airport is extremely finicky, so ask around instead. The metro system in Barcelona seems to be very well laid out, maintained, and easy to navigate (complete with English stop announcements). After accidentally wandering to the business area where the tallest (and some very cool looking) buildings are, I mapped my way to a hostel called Dream Cube Hostel. It simultaneously the best and cheapest hostel I stayed at the whole semester. Very clean and new facilities for ~16 € a night, including a kitchen, fridge, and lockboxes. Most people (especially the staff) I spoke with spoke very decent English, and Spanish isn't too difficult to decipher. There is a convenient metro station nearby that will allow you to reach every major point of interest. When planning, it may be worth booking ahead of time: if my trip had been any later, I would have been SOL as there was a Real Madrid v. Barcelona.

Venturing into the city, you will find no shortage of places to eat and drink. Most sections of the city seemed pretty safe after nightfall.


Park Guell

A lot of the city's architecture owes itself to Gaudi, a prominent architect of the last century. His style is very unique and places a huge focus on colorful mosaics, many examples of which you can find here. I would recommend taking the green line up the northernmost stop, walking downhill a bit, and then turning left onto the first street you see with escalators in the middle. This will take you up to the top of the park and allow you to walk down through the hill it sits on. The Gaudi-designed section of the park has an entrance fee of a few €s, and I would recommend getting these tickets online ahead of time as they seem to sell out very fast. You can also enter for free after 8pm, but when I visited there was not nearly enough daylight at that time to see everything.

fantastic stone architecture The free section of the park

Sagrada Familia

Probably the centerpiece of Barcelona and easily the most prominent building in the skyline, the Sagrada Familia has been under construction on and off since the 1800's. Designed by Gaudi, it is being continued after his death according to his original plans. The outside is currently unfinished but the inside is open for tourism and services. It's easily th most impressive piece of architecture I've seen and it's a welcome departure from the old classical style cathedrals everywhere else in the world. I would strongly recommend taking the extended tour which goes up to the upper levels of the inside. Either way, order tickets online head of time as it is near impossible to get same day tickets.

inside of the Sacred Family Cathedral "The cathedral is lit almost completely from natural lighting"

Picasso Museum

Positioned in Barcelona's amazing Gothic quarter, this museum houses the largest collection of Pablo Picasso's artwork in the world and presents it in an incredible fashion in Picasso's house. The collection is massive, and if you listen to all of the audioguide keys (and I do recommend the audioguide), it should take ~3 hours to make your way through.

courtyard at the Picasso Museum The courtyard

Other things

A visit to beach at the southeast part of the city is well worth the time. In the area, you'll find a harbor to the west, as well as a monument. If you walk out on the pier, past the billionaire's super yachts, you'll find the aquarium, which makes for a good indoor activity on rainy days. It's not the best but its also not terrible! There are also a skyline which runs from the farthest point in the harbor up to the top of the hill looking over the city.

Three more destinations I would try to make are :
1) LaRambla: This market in central Barcelona sells everything you can imagine, as well as some things you probably didn't want to imagine.
2) Gadui's house: I wasn't able to make it here as it was closed for renovations, but this piece of mosaic-adorned architecture is worth the visit.
3) Gothic quarter: The ancient part of Barcelona, this section of the city houses narrow streets and old churches.

colorful birds on an arm Pigeons + chalk = tourist scam


Travel log, part 1: Naples

(And more importantly, Vesuvius and Pompeii)

This past semester, I studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary. Being in Europe, the land of cheapo airlines, enabled me to do a fair bit of traveling and with all of my flights and layovers and jet lag awaiting me on the return trip, I figured I might as well spend some time talking about the places I visited and the cool stuff I did there.

Dates of travel: Saturday, 5/21 to Tuesday, 5/24

Naples from high up Naples from Vesuvius


My trip to Naples was a last minute, spur of the moment trip that I booked two days ahead of time. I wanted to squeeze one last destination in to my study abroad experience but forgot to book anything. Surprisingly, a round trip ticket from BUD to NAP on WhizzAir was only ~$107. The luggage restrictions weren't a problem, as I have a small backpack that fits as a personal item but still easily carries a few days worth of worth of clothes. When my flight got in early Saturday, I did the usual: hop on GMaps and figure out how to get to the center of town. The central station is only about an hour's walk from the airport, so I set off. First thing to note, is that you should consider this place tropical. It was upwards of 80°f and sunny for all but Tuesday. Needless to say, I should have taken transport, but I didn't want to waste money on a taxi and the public transit is complete rubbish. To expand on this: compared to most other places I visited, there are absolutely no English instructions OR English speaking workers to assist. You're on your own. Another thing is that all the services are run by a private company, TrenItalia, and it's not immediately apparent that this company is, in fact, the subway/train system. They also didn't have a three day pass or any short term multi use pass that I could find in the ticket machine. I didn't even try my luck with the buses, but the trains were luckily enough to get me to the few places outside the city that I needed to go. As a warning, I noticed that the public transit directions on GMaps seemed to be incomplete or incorrect, so make sure to poke around on the city maps first.

Regardless, when I reached the central station I stole some wifi (free wifi is pretty rare here) and found Art Hostel, a cheap hostel about a 30 minute's walk away. I was fairly happy with this place. For €20 a night, they provide good rooming (with 5 other people) and bathroom facilities, free wifi, and breakfast. It isn't in the most convenient location, but it isn't too far removed either. One thing you'll notice in the city is the sheer amount of graffiti. I don't think I saw a SINGLE building without it. I'm not sure if this is a huge problem in Naples but it seems to just about match how unclean the streets and sidewalks were. I don't like to sound soft about things not looking great, but Naples was BY FAR the dirtiest city I visited and also happens to have the worst driving. Mopeds with entire families on them (parents, two kids, and a dog, all unhelmeted) constantly weave through traffic, and there doesn't seem to be a standard to yielding. There are continuous close calls on the narrow streets and pedestrians don't seem to even look when crossing. The worst part though is that there are absolutely no quiet drivers. They seem to have made a language out of honking and every situation seems to warrant it.


National Archaeological Museum

This is apparently a huge attraction in Naples and is conveniently about a block from Art Hostel. Admission is €8 and the audioguide is more. Even though I did not get it, I wold recommend the audioguide because none of the short descriptions of the works have English translations. The museum features many beautiful ancient statues and mosaics, as well as very cool modern sculpture installations. This is easily doable in 2 hours.

a house of cards House of Cards

Small chapel

Very interesting chapel with the absolute best marble sculptures I have ever seen. Unfortunately, it is basically only one room, and the map is a little misleading. There are audioguides available but there are also English descriptions. Overall I would say it is worth the €5 admission for maybe 30 minutes of looking at some really cool statues.

the famous Veiled Christ "No pictures please"

Royal Palace

Absolutely incredible fancy palace. When I visited, the entire outside of the building was covered in scaffolding for renovations, but the inside was totally untouched. You can tour the royal rooms and apartments. There are good English info placards. I would give this place two hours or so.

a ballroom in the palace Inside one of the reception rooms

Other things

Walking south from the palace will take you past the large chapel opposite, you'll immediately reach the ocean. There are two forts nearby. The smaller one, accessible via a bridge, is Castel dell'Ovo, while the larger one is Castel Nuovo. I didn't have a chance to visit either, but hanging out by the waterfront is very relaxing. I recommend getting some seafood either from one of the restaurants on the end of the port or from a street vendor. This area is about the most scenic coast you can find in the area. Everything else is taken up by ports and docs.

a boat on the harbor One of the times I was thankful for my camera's obscene zoom


If you come to Naples, you're gonna want to do this. The easiest way to get to the top of the active volcano is to take a bus called Vesuvio Express which will take you almost all the way to the top at which point you can walk ~15 minutes the rest of the way. You can get to it by going to the Central station and taking the Circumvesuvio (get it?) line to the Ercolano stop. (Note that Portico-Ercolano != Ercolano!!! If you got on Line 1 or Line 2, you made the wrong choice. I learned this the hard way.) The agency is on the left as you walk out. Total cost is €20 and the trip takes about 40 minutes each way. You'll have 90 minutes at the top to take as many pictures as you can before the bus leaves again. (If you miss it, tough luck). Needless to say, there are some incredible views at the top that make the journey completely worth it.


After descending from Vesuvius, you can continue on the Circumvesuvio line for a few more stops and reach Pompeii. The entrance to the ruins is less than 50 meters from the exit to the train stop. The line didn't seem to be too long, and I explored most, if not all of the ruins in around 5 hours. There are incredible views if you reach the vineyard section around sunset.


Fading text on a DrawerLayout in Android

Some applications, (notably, past versions of Spotify) have a drawerlayout which has the toolbar sitting above the drawer itself, so apps have the ability to display separate titles for both drawer states. Now, having different titles for the different drawer states can be trivially achieved by setting them in the ActionBarDrawerToggle constructor:

toggle = new ActionBarDrawerToggle(this, mDrawerLayout, mToolbar, R.string.title1, R.string.title2){...
	public void onDrawerSlide(View drawerView, float slideOffset) {
		if(slideOffset > .50 && !isDrawerOpen){
			isDrawerOpen = true;
		} else if(slideOffset <= .50 && isDrawerOpen) {
			isDrawerOpen = false;
The float parameter passed in to the onDrawerSlide method is a number from 0.00 to 1.00 which represents the percent that the drawer is extended. Here we change the title when the drawer is halfway open or closed. However, this ends up looking pretty ugly when animated:

Now here, a trick we can do is to change the opacity of the title so that it is transparent when the title changes. We can whip up a quick math function that takes in a variable x, and gives values of 255 when x is 0 and 1, and gives a value of 0 when x is 0.5 (halfway open/closed):

Of course, since we need a proper alpha value to set the title text color, we have to scale this function by 255:

Here it is, implemented at the very end of our onDrawerSlide function:

As you can see, having the title be completely transparent when it changes text results in a much smoother animation. However, it still seems a little jarring when viewed at a fast speed. We can do better by constructing a parabolic curve instead of a linear one:


Now the text animates very smoothly. If anyone can come up with something better, like a bell curve, drop me an email!


The mess that is Android

Recently, thanks to my Android app development class, I've gotten into Android programming, and as a result, I've noticed how deeply flawed the platform is. Now, I am no stranger to Android. My first smartphone was a Droid 2, I have a Galaxy S 4 & Galaxy Tab 10.1, and I know my way around custom roms, rooting, bootloaders and the like. But to be honest, I hadn't actually used an Android phone in 4 years until about a month ago when I found that GS4. I booted it up, hoping to see that Android had improved, but alas, it had made no progress in 4 years. The same problems still plagued the platform:


This is the most infuriating problem to me. It's like phone makers are willing to deliberately sacrifice software quality in order to make some extra cash. This may make sense for low end, $0 on contract phones, but what about a $200 flagship smartphone? When I reset and updated the GS4, I ended up with over 50 preinstalled apps. 3 music apps, 2 video apps, 2 messaging apps, countless AT&T apps trying to sell extra services that nobody ever uses, among a dozen other apps which added absolutely nothing to the device. All of these were permanent and not removable to the average user. A few of them even spammed notifications daily. So much bloat fills up a phone and detracts from the user experience. iOS and even Windows Phone do not have this problem.


Recently, two major vulnerabilities in Android surfaced: one allowing attackers to bypass user's lockscreens, and another in the media decoder, both affecting millions of devices. Software as complicated as an operating system is generally insecure, but most operating systems are updated continuously. In theory, Android is too, but millions of devices affected by these vulnerabilities will remain vulnerable due to the last problem:

Lack of Updates

Android 6.0 images are out! I have a *single* Android device that’s eligible (…out of 30?) https://t.co/rbaKQem9hl /via @b3ll

— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) October 6, 2015

My Droid 2 got one official update, from 2.2 to 2.3. Keep in mind, this was a flagship, top of the line phone, and there was no excuse for Motorola to drop support so quickly. This fate happens to many phones, even recently. Motorola will end support for the Moto E, after 219 days, 1 update, and the promise of more. Many phone manufacturers seem to drop support for devices after a year or so, halfway through a standard phone contract. Contrast this to Apple, who recently made iOS 9 available on the iPhone 4s, a phone that launched 4 years ago, on the same day that everyone else got it. This problem makes Android a nightmare for developers, as we have to target year-old API levels in order to capture compatibility with a reasonable number of devices.

These issues in Android seriously need to be addressed in order for it to compete long term with iOS. Google could easily leverage carriers and manufacturers to fix these flaws, which leaves me to question why they haven't yet.